Anthony Marra is an American writer born in Washington DC in 1984. He obtained his BA at the University of Southern California and later his MFA at the University of Iowa. Before publishing his debut novel in 2013, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, he wrote articles for various publications, including The Atlantic, Narrative Magazine, and MAKE Magazine.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena tells the story of the second Chechen War, which lasted from August 1999 to April 16, 2009. The novel begins when a character named Akhmed sees his neighbor, Dokka, being arrested and separated from her daughter. Akhmed takes the daughter to a nearby hospital in the hopes that she will be protected by its only remaining doctor. Marra explores the lives of each character Akhmed encounters and how they were impacted by the onslaught of the war.
Madison Smartt Bell of The New York Times describes the novel as “peppered with these short detours into the pasts or futures of characters who momentarily cross paths with the principals. It’s one of Marra’s ways of holding the value of human wishes against their vanity. There’s a constant impulse to retrieve and affirm what was, though acts of remembrance are themselves evanescent.” Marra’s story, despite its brutal subject matter, reaffirms that there is always survival and renewal in the face of violence. The reader is left with a sense of hope by the conclusion of the novel.
When it was published in 2014, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena received a considerable amount of praise from critics and audiences. It was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and Washington Post Top Ten Book of the Year. It also won the Grand Prix des Lectrices de Elle award, National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize, and the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Award.
Since his debut novel, Marra has also received accolades for his short stories, Chechnya and The Grozny Tourist Bureau.